Students who experience foster care face many challenges on the path to earning a high school diploma or a GED. But the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC) is showing that, with the right resources, these young people can thrive.
MAAC, the Georgia site of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative®, operates a program for youth in foster care called Learn, Educate, Achieve, Dream and Succeed (LEADS). The LEADS program pairs participants with an educational coordinator and offers a wide range of individualized educational supports, such as school supplies, tutoring, educational advocacy and career planning.
But the program doesn’t stop there. It also offers a range of supports, such as credit recovery assistance, that are shaped by the unique needs of youth in foster care. Another example: In the event of a placement move — a major barrier to academic success for youth in foster care — LEADS works to ensure that the move occurs within the same school or district and at a natural break in the school year.
LEADS recently concluded an intensive program for 300 students in seventh through 12th grade and high school equivalency diploma candidates. Beyond its standard wraparound services, LEADS paid for needs, such as prom and graduation fees, and launched a gift card incentive system that rewards students for improved attendance, grades and other educational milestones.
The program’s personalized, comprehensive approach seems to be working. During the 2017–18 academic year, 78% of eligible LEADS participants earned a high-school diploma. This rate far exceeds the national average for youth in foster care (50%) and is closer to the high-school graduation rate for all youth (84%).
Now in its second year, LEADS is supporting more than 500 youth and young people experiencing foster care in Georgia’s Futon and DeKalb counties.
“LEADS provides students with the same support that I might provide for my own children,” says Victoria Salzman, MAAC’s chief strategic development officer. “Educational coordinators are advocates. They help to secure funding for class materials and transportation to school and serve as liaisons between the student and the administration to make sure the student’s educational needs and goals are being met.”
The program also helps to build trust and stability between students and program leaders and staff.
“Youth experiencing foster care are so often let down by the systems that should be supporting them,” says Kaytie Markfort, an education supervisor at MAAC who has worked as a LEADS educational coordinator. “We hope that LEADS, by listening to the students’ stated goals and following through on our commitments, can provide the reliability and consistency needed for all students to thrive.”